England v Sri Lanka: It’s time Alastair Cook wiped that smug grin off Shane Warne’s face

The Calvin report

Somewhere in the Mediterranean yesterday morning, on a luxury yacht cruising along the coast of Majorca, a portly, perma-tanned 44-year-old schoolboy permitted himself a self-congratulatory smile. The news from Headingley could hardly have been better.

Alastair Cook had survived for only 13 minutes, augmenting his meagre overnight score with a solitary scoring stroke, before he was dismissed in desultory fashion. Shane Warne’s policy of mental degradation had acquired further momentum.

Cook’s opportunity to put the Australian’s puerile criticism into perspective had been lost. The perfect scenario of a rehabilitative century on a day of soporific old-school international cricket remained unrealised.

It was left to Sam Robson, his opening partner, to seize the moment with his first Test century. England’s latest import, Australian-born to a British mother, seemed abashed by the achievement of scoring 127, and will surely face more searching examinations of form and technique.

The straw coloured pitch was as docile as a Labrador on Prozac. The Sri Lankan bowling attack contained all the menace of a rampaging mob of octogenarians from Harrogate. The paying punters hardly responded with the positivity the England captain purports  to crave.

Long before tea, the exhibitionists on the Western Terrace, a motley collection of mock cyclists, superheroes and Dickie Bird fetishists, had turned their backs on play to concentrate on the creation of a beer snake, which writhed messily across scores of seats.

Cook, condemned to trial by isolation in the dressing room, felt every second of the longest day. He had no such idle interlude. Such is the sudden questioning of his status that his statistics were studied with the solemnity of a reading at a State funeral.

He has scored 585 runs in 23 innings at an average of 25.43 since his last Test century, against New Zealand at Headingley last summer. The natives are growing restless. They are increasingly unimpressed by his overall record of 25 hundreds, at an average of 46, which is the best of any current batsman under the age of 30.

So much for the certainty and soothing eloquence of the cricket scorebook. The quality and intensity of the public scrutiny to which Cook is subjected by his predecessors far outweighs that endured by his contemporaries in football and rugby union.

He knew what was coming. He had added only three runs when he felt for a delivery from Dhammika Prasad outside his off stump. The ball moved away and was taken at ankle height by Kumar Sangakkara at first slip. He was out for 17 when he needed to score 170.

A host of former England captains in the commentary box cleared their throats. Andrew Strauss, his immediate predecessor, spoke of the curse of hard hands in his technical tutorial. He suggested Cook was not letting the ball come to him. He was searching for it. Confidence was becoming  an issue.

Geoff Boycott, God in God’s Own County, spoke of the open face of Cook’s bat as if it was a crime against humanity. He praised the planning and execution of modern bowling attacks, who, aware of the batsman’s previous issues with lbws, were happy to tempt him into snicking the ball into the slip cordon.

The talk is of Cook’s stiff front leg, rather than his stiff upper lip. Runs will make it easier for him to captain, and easier for him to live with himself. The batsman who once played the ball wonderfully late, and scored centuries with studied ease, is in there somewhere, most probably in the void between the analyst’s laptop and the labyrinth of his brain.

A captain cannot afford the luxury of constant self-examination, because there are others to worry about. There are decisions to make, a team to shape. The last thing Cook needs is a Punch and Judy Show, with Warne and his equally crass friend Kevin Pietersen pulling the strings.

He must envy Robson the simplicity of his ambition, and the luxury of his patience. A boyhood friend of Australian batsman David Warner, the Middlesex opener is attempting to succeed where Nick Compton, Joe Root and Michael Carberry have failed since Strauss’s retirement.

He is compact and understated, as Australian in terms of temperament as tripe and jellied eels. Like Gary Balance, who surprised everyone, including himself, by getting out for 74, he is an accumulator rather than entertainer. It takes all sorts.

Cook (pictured) has been earmarked as the leader of a new generation of players. They are expected to dispel the cynicism accumulated during England’s last cycle of success.

It still seems perverse to consider sacrificing a player in whom England have invested so much, emotionally and strategically. Cook deserves support, but it is essential he reverts to type, and wipes that smug smile off Warne’s face, sooner rather than later.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower